Posts Tagged ‘eggs’

Catching up

November 3, 2009

We’ve been busy lately, where lately means the last month. Tom was in Puerto Rico for 2 weeks before we joined him there for another week. Now we are back and trying to catch up on life and housework while also fighting a cold.

I have a ton of things I would like to write about: new kittens (they are about a month old already!), another dead hen, more hens laying eggs, roosters not turning out as gentle as you had hoped, painting and redoing the floor of our half bathroom, Puerto Rico, our neighbor not wanting us to have livestock, how we are trying to prevent and combat illness naturally, etc.

But it will all have to wait because first I have to catch up on life before I can catch up on my blog. Plus, I need to catch up on reading some blogs.

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Chicken breeds

May 21, 2009

When I started this blog I had intended to write a whole lot more about the whole process of getting chickens. I had read so much, including lots of good blogs, books, magazines, websites, etc. One of the things I wanted to write about was the process of choosing which breed to get. We carefully thought about whether to start with pullets or chicks, when to get the chickens, how to get them, how to house them (which we are still debating about!) whether to get layers or fryers or both, etc. I even spent a bit of time trying to figure out which breed to get. Some breeds are really good layers, but they aren’t good at foraging. Some are good meat birds, but again, aren’t necessarily good at foraging.

One of the best resources I found was Chickens, which was a Hobby Farms publication. The chart in the magazine was based on Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart. This chart is super useful in helping choose a chicken breed. Some people just want eggs, and lots of eggs, making the Leghorn a good choice since it has been bred to be a profuse layer (at least the production Leghorns). The chart indicates how big each breed gets, which makes it useful for those who just want meat. It includes a bit of history, the colors, whether the hens will sit on the eggs (broodiness), whether the breed does well in the heat or cold, and whether it is adaptable to confinement, free ranging, or could go either way. 

Some chickens are dual purpose, which means they can be used for eggs or meat. There are chicken breeds that have been bred specifically for laying (Leghorns are most commonly used in the United States) and meat (Cornish Cross). The reason they are popular is that they convert feed to eggs or meat very efficiently, so they are the cheapest breeds to use for those purposes. However, they are not good for every hobby farmer or backyard chicken keeper. 

My requirements for a chicken breed were:

  • a breed that is fairly friendly and docile so I don’t have to worry about them attacking the kids
  • a breed that is dual purpose in case we decide to let our flock grow and have some for meat and some for eggs
  • a breed that is somewhat broody for the same reason as above
  • a breed that is cold hardy as our winters can get pretty cold

I was also interested in chicken breeds that are rare or uncommon, as listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). I was really interested in the Delaware, because it is rare and is very cold hardy. Delawares were commonly used for meat before Cornish Crosses became so popular. Getting Delawares is a problem because none of the stores sell them, which means you have to order them from a hatchery, which means a minimum order of 25. I was not ready to have 25 chicks when we started out. So, I was left with the choices at Farm King, which were not very good. Then Ang. recommended Farm and Home Supply in Keokuk (she’s also the person I bought the Buff Orpington chicks from). I called them up and they had much better choices. For some reason, though, the stores did not always have on hand what they said they would have. So when I went to Farm and Home Supply to buy chicks, but it turned out they did not have the breed I had decided on after my phone call. Fortunately I had my copy of Chickens and was able to pick out New Hampshire chickens. The New Hampshire is a great dual purpose breed. They are supposed to be good layers and adaptable to free range or confinement.

In hindsight, I think it worked out well that I didn’t get Delaware chicks since they are white. I would be much more worried about them getting eaten by hawks than I am about the New Hampshires. Our chickens have free ranged the last two days and have put themselves in their coop. I’m not too worried about them because it’s hard to spot the chickens ranging when the grass is tall (though it might be easier to see them from a hawk’s point of view). Even so I am sure they do not stick out as much as a white chicken would. I am still interested in the rare breeds, but am happy with the New Hampshires and the Buff Orpingtons.*

 

*New Hampshires are on the watch list and Buff Orpingtons are recovering, according to the ALBC website.

Why chickens should be free ranging

February 25, 2009

When we were looking at this property, I was quite excited about the idea of getting chickens. Naturally, I started reading what I could about chickens (that’s how I approach most things I need to learn about – read first, then talk to others). What I learned is that chickens should be free ranging. I already knew that when eggs at the store are labeled “cage free” it does not necessarily mean free range and that even “free range” does not always mean what it should mean. Cage free means the birds are not in cages. In general I am sure that is less cruel than cramped cages, but it doesn’t mean it is humane and it doesn’t mean that they are eating a natural diet. It simply means they do not live in cages. Free range seems like it should mean that the birds are allowed to range freely, but all it really means is that they have some access to the outdoors.

So, what should free range really mean? What is the difference and why is it important? Well, chickens that are free ranging produce eggs that are much healthier (for humans, but I’m sure if the eggs were fertilized, the resulting chicks would also be healthier). Chickens that are pasture fed produce eggs with less cholesterol, less saturated fat, more vitamin A, D, and E, more omega-3, and more beta carotene. Now, according to the article about this study, the eggs they are studying are from chickens that are free ranging or are in moveable pens. These chickens are eating a diet that is natural, which is good for the humans who eat the eggs and also better for the chickens. That is what free range should mean.

As I said, I started reading all this stuff before we moved here. At that point I knew for sure that the first animals we wanted to have would be chickens. One of the articles I read, Raising Free Range Chickens, stated that chickens can range freely and meet their nutrition needs anywhere that similar birds, such as quail, pheasant, turkeys, grouse, prairie chickens, run wild. Our property has turkeys and pheasants, and probably the others, too. I know for sure about turkeys because we saw pictures the previous owner had taken and we saw them ourselves one day.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

The fact that chickens can range freely on our land appeals to my frugal nature. I won’t have to worry about feeding them except to maybe supplement a bit or when they cannot forage. They will get proper nurtrtion by eating bugs, berries, and seeds that they are designed to eat. Oh, and the fact that they eat bugs? If they happen to eat Asian lady beetles, they will save us time and effort trying to keep the lady bugs out of our house. Plus, they apparently like table scraps (not sure where I read that or I’d put in a link!). Between the outdoor cats and the chickens all our food waste will either be eaten or composted.

So, some of the issues we’ve had to think about are:

  • Why do we want chickens? Just for eggs or for eggs and meat?
  • Do we want to start with chicks or hens?
  • What kind of chickens do we want? What breed? Do we want a heritage breed?
  • Where will we buy the chicks or hens? Options include hatcheries that ship through the mail, local stores that sell them, and possibly neighbors or someone else locally who would be willing to part with some chicks or a hen or two.
  • Can we let the chickens range freely? Issues include how to get the chickens to forage and what kind of other critters are around that might pose a threat.
  • If we need a coop, do we need it just at night or during the day, too?
  • Do we want to use the coop we already have or build a moveable coop or a Hen hut?I will be posting more about this, obviously. Stay tuned!